Here are your eight highlights from the 2008 presidential campaign trail for this week. Memorize this column each Friday and you'll be able to hold your own with any full-time political operative at a cocktail party over the weekend.
1) Barack Obama, to the surprise of almost no one but consternation of many, leapt into the presidential race this week. When we say this changes everything, we mean everything. This is the worst news possible for just about every other Democratic candidate, and it's particularly good news for John McCain—the more the press and attention is focused on the Democratic race, the easier it will be for McCain to win the Republican nomination. Mitt Romney needs air to breathe and to grow stronger. With Obama in the race, it'll be that much harder for any other candidate—Republican or Democratic—to surge.
2) Hillary Clinton didn't get into the race. There's nothing we can read into that except to say that every week she waits will make it harder. The first challenge is fund-raising and the FEC has very strict rules about how much she can raise before she has to declare. With John Edwards and Obama both in, they're spending each day raising money and getting a head start. Can she catch up? Most assuredly, but in an election as competitive as this one promises to be, a head start is a head start.
3) Two major constituencies of the parties are both still trying to figure out who their candidate should be. With former Virginia Governor Mark Warner out of the race—who wooed bloggers with an $80,000 party on top of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas last summer during a blogger convention—bloggers aren't sure which Democratic candidate to support. Obama's not proving to be the progressive wunderkind they wanted him to be, and Clinton's too centrist. Edwards is making a strong push online. On the right, evangelicals and social conservatives are struggling to find a candidate within the GOP field. While many observers believe they'll eventually come 'round to Mitt Romney, right now Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Senator Sam Brownback are both looking good.
4) Iraq is still a problem for everyone. The sooner it goes away, the better it'll be for everyone (not least of all, the U.S. troops actually in Iraq). Hillary, who spent the weekend in Iraq and Afghanistan, is coming out strongly against the surge, while McCain is staking out the potentially dangerous territory of being one of the strongest supporters of President Bush's new plan. Obama is separating himself from Hillary and generally dancing around the issue as best he can. The Illinois powerhouse, who back in 2002, before it mattered was strongly anti-war, now appears to be a little unsure of himself. Hillary meanwhile, a late-comer to the anti-war cause, may end up being saddled with a John Kerry-like stance: She voted against the war after she voted for it.
5) Zogby International came out with a poll of Iowa showing that John Edwards, who finished a strong second in Iowa in 2004, is the far-and-away leader in the Democratic field. He clocks in at 27 percent—ten point ahead of Obama, which is outside the poll's margin of error—with Obama at 17, Vilsack and Hillary at 16. Does this matter? Not really. Iowa's crazy caucus system is notoriously hard to poll, it's a year out from the election, and Hillary hasn't been to Iowa yet. Does it give Edwards continued credibility? Absolutely.
6) On the Republican side, Zogby's poll shows Rudy Giuliani at 19, McCain at 17, and Newt Gingrich (of all people) at 13. Romney finishes behind Condi Rice (of all people) with just 5 percent. Again, none of this means much—there's scores of millions of dollars to be spent in the state by all sides—but it does mean that the field is wide open and that McCain, despite high name recognition, doesn't have a lock on the state.
7) Speaking of Giuliani, according to the Hotline, the former New York mayor plans to expand and reorganize his fledgling campaign. With most insiders widely dismissing his candidacy, he'll add more staff in early primary states, expand his money organization, and generally try to make it seem that he's not just running for President of New York City. One tip: Be wary of any campaign that promises to "revamp" its organization before the campaign is even really underway. Initial signs of disarray or disorganization are a great excuse for the national press to dismiss you.
8) Senator Wayne Allard is stepping down. The Colorado Republican's decision will ensure that Colorado, the site of the Democrats' presidential convention in 2008, will be in play. Democrats have been making big strides in the state and with an open Senate seat, the state's 9 electoral votes are very much up for grabs. In 2004, George W. Bush beat Kerry only by 52-47. Is Colorado Ohio or Florida? Obviously not, but the more states where there's a fight, the harder (i.e., more expensive) it'll be to win any of them.
"8 on ’08" is a weekly Friday column that summarizes the eight biggest developments in the 2008 presidential race. To read last week's premiere installment, click here.